Festival of litter

Passing the Reading Festival site on the train last Thursday, four days after the Festival had ended, was a surprising and somewhat shocking experience. I noticed an unusual pattern out of the corner of my eye through the train window. I looked round and, for the few seconds that it was in view, I stared with amazement. There before me was one huge green space – but it was neither green nor space. It was absolutely covered with the debris and detritus of the previous week’s festival. All I could make out clearly from the brief flash of sight that I had were the tents – a considerable number of them – that the festival-goers had abandoned, clearly not bothered about retaining what must nowadays be regarded as cheap and disposable accessories.

I had initially assumed that the average age of festival-goers was in the 18-24 age range that Keep Britain Tidy’s research shows as the age range that litters most, so I wasn’t surprised that the place was a tip. But when I got back to my computer, a quick search showed something that was, at least to me, quite surprising. The average age of festival-goers in the UK (as shown by recent MSN research) is, in fact, 36 and this is due to the huge increase in the cost of attending. MSN has calculated the average cost of festival attendance at £420, somewhat above what many young people can afford.

So I am surprised that the post-festival site bore an uncanny resemblance to a landfill site. Was it just the younger attendees who left their mess behind ? Or was it the majority ? The Reading Festival organisers certainly do their bit to try to encourage recycling and proper disposal of waste. Their website (http://www.readingfestival.com/information/green-reading) shows that they take reasonable measures to stop people just leaving their waste in situ and they even have Green Messengers to persuade festival-goers to dispose of their waste responsibly.

Now I’d better put my cards face up on the table here – over my 50+ years I’ve never been to a proper large-scale music festival and so I could easily be accused of not understanding what goes on at such events. Mind you, having seen the Reading site, I would now actually like to go along to a festival in an attempt to comprehend the way that these things work, especially as regards the disposal of rubbish.

But I do feel that there must be a better way of dealing with the issue of festival rubbish. And isn’t a gathering of musically-appreciative people just the ideal opportunity to get a strong message home to them ? Why don’t festival-goers listen to the general exhortation to take your rubbish to the nearest bin and to hand in unwanted tents at the appointed station so that they can be reused by those in need ? And here is a plug for the excellent organisations who try to address the issue of tent reuse and recycling – among them, http://www.retent.co.uk/, http://www.thebetterfestivalgroup.co.uk/campaigns/the-big-tent-recycle, http://www.wragwrap.com/ and http://www.withintent.co.uk/.

The overall concern I have is that festivals are, I suspect, a typical instance of crowd behaviour such that “If others don’t bother, then why should I bother ?”. If festival organisers were able to encourage better litter-disposal behaviour at festivals, that would surely have some positive effect on changing people’s behaviour in life in general (and challenging the norm among many young people that it’s uncool to put your litter in a bin) and it might also reduce the costs of the post-festival cleanup.

So, dear readers, please let me know what suggestions you have on this issue or whether, perhaps, there is another factor at play here that I have missed. Either way, there is surely a way to enjoy music while simultaneously respecting the environment.

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